MacBook 2017: First Impressions

I recently acquired a MacBook 2017. It has been over 7 years since my last new Mac purchase experience, so I thought I’d document the first impressions since my last purchase experience. (Full disclosure: I’m primarily a Microsoft Windows / PC user, with Office 2016 for personal and professional use).

In short: I’m really impressed. In under an hour, I had all my apps up and running, my files synched from the Microsoft cloud, and a fully productive, secure portable computer. The small software and hardware changes that Apple have made since 2009 are noticeably productive and pleasing. Finally, the computer lacks the platform lock-in feeling of other Apple products (which is a good thing).

 

In more detail:

  • Unboxing experience is really quite good (with some reservations): Next day delivery. The UPS box is designed to lift the MacBook box up and out as you open it. The laptop is the first thing you see, then the charger and instructions. The instructions are in a small envelope with an internal spacer in the envelope to make it a small box to fit the hole in the larger box perfectly: nice touch. The downsides then. The MacBook box is too large: they could have shipped a smaller adapter to make the box smaller. The MacBook box is only in English with a French sticker over it — it is a good hack, but not perfect.
  • Physical hardware: Small form factor and wow factor first up, until you pick it up and realise it is quite heavy. At first glance, not much has changed here since 2009, but then some subtle changes are really apparent.
    • Keyboard / Touch Pad The new keyboard feels unlike anything I’ve used before. It has a very positive click to every press but very little throw. The touchpad is classic apple, really reactive, smooth, precise. Good false thumb rejection. The force feature, a bit annoying as there is no allegory anywhere else. Instead of delete there is a power button … which does NOTHING as I type this. Total fail. I clock 107 WPM in 10 fast fingers at 97.8% in my first hour on the keyboard, so I guess this is a win for the Apple.
    • Screen: The screen is just wonderful. Great gamut, very sharp, and accurate colour from the get go.
    • Single USB-C Port: I’m a huge fan of this feature. One port to charge and to connect them all. It works with all my USB-C chargers thus far (15W and the supplied 29W)
    • Case polishing defect: The case is milled from aluminium and in my sample, you can see the milling lines on the wrist pad. You can only see it (and not feel it), but still. Apple needs to work a little on the finishing / sanding of their cases. A shame.
    • Laptop screen balance: The laptop is screen heavy, so it wants to lean backwards. Your hands on the wrist pads and the screen itself balances this out, but I imagine Apple agonised over this because they could have made the laptop heavier and more balanced (with more battery life).
    • Sound: The speakers are well designed and throw out quite a bit of noise for the size.
    • No fan / silent running: With the low thermal profile of these new Intel chips, the laptop is completely silent. Which is great apart from the click noise from the keys and mouse.
  • Software: Lots of small changes to OS X since Lion or whatever it was back then.
    • Setup: The initial setup wizard is almost the same, apart from the inclusion of AppleID / iCloud and FileVault.
    • Applications included: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are now included in the base build. Maps is also there.
    • iOS features have managed to make it to OS X: Autocomplete, Siri, notifications, and others… These may seem like small features, but they are significant and show that Apple are sharing features cross platform.
    • Setting it all up: Unfortunately, common applications outside the Apple walled garden need to be side loaded from the web. Why not the App Store? Chrome, Firefox, Spotify, Skype, Office … I’m talking about you (this might not be Apple’s fault). As an added feature, post installation, OS X will ask you if you want to move the install to the Trash.
    • Safari: This is worth a bullet point on its own. It feels like it is more elegantly integrated into OS X than Firefox or Chrome. For example, as you enter in your credentials, you can save them but also grant access to other OS X features at the same time. I’m not entirely supportive of this but I can understand the convenience.
    • Retina Screen Rendering: I’ve got mixed feelings about this. By default, the magnification in the applications is huge, reducing the information density. But it also makes sense on the smaller screen. For the most part, Apple have updated all apps to be Retina ready, but there are some exceptions: like the flags for the keyboard formats and web applications. A small detail, but still.
    • Default screen font: San Francisco is a wonderful change from Myriad. It is more legible and cleaner (and arguably more so than Helvetica). It’s a nice touch that it is on the physical keyboard as well (although I do miss Univers).